Review: Thunderstruck

Thunderstruck, Erik Larsen. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.

Summary: The intersection of the lives of Guglielmo Marconi and Hawley Harvey Crippen occurs on a trans-Atlantic voyage with a Scotland Yard detective in pursuit.

Many of us still know who Guglielmo Marconi is. He was the most well-known pioneer of wireless telegraphy. But Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen? In the early twentieth century, he was known as the mild-mannered doctor whose missing wife was found buried in a most grisly state. Erik Larson tells the story of the unlikely intersection of their two lives, culminating in a trans-Atlantic flight of Hawley and his mistress, with a Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard on a pursuing ship.

Larson does this through parallel accounts of the two men’s lives. With Marconi, it begins with the childhood tinkerer who kept experimenting with electronic transmission and who not only envisioned wireless transmissions from ship to shore but even across the Atlantic. Larson portrays a driven man who sacrifices marriage and collaborative relationships in his obsessions, unwilling to listen to others even when his designs for transmission arrays were evidently structurally unsound. With no theoretical training, he kept making mistakes until he found ways to make it work, eventually getting his equipment on many ocean-going vessels, even as competitors both in England and Germany encroached on this lucrative market.

Crippen began life in Coldwater Michigan. He trained in homeopathic medicine. After his first wife died of stroke, he married an aspiring but untalented stage actress Cora Turner, also know on the stage as Belle Elmore. He developed a career of selling patent medicines. In 1897 they moved to England where Belle briefly pursued a career on the stage. What she lacked in talent, she made up in friends. She was domineering and he was unfailingly accommodating. Then he met a woman, Ethel, at Drouet’s Institution for the Deaf. After a party during the winter of 1910 where Belle insulted him, she disappeared, and shortly after, Ethel moved in. He gave out the story that she had left him for America, then that she was ill, and finally that she’d died in California. And he might have gotten away with it were it not for her stage friends.

One went to Scotland Yard. Chief Inspector Dew was assigned. He liked Crippen but was troubled by the discrepancies in his story. As Crippen realizes he is under suspicion, he and Ethel flee to the continent, and then board a ship to Quebec. Meanwhile, Dew, investigating the house comes across a grisly burial in the basement. Marconi’s invention gets the word out to all points, including all the ships on the ocean. The captain of the Magenta suspects that the father and son traveling as the Robinsons are in reality the fugitives, finding confirming evidence. Dew gets the word via the wireless and pursues on a faster ship. But has he gone after the right suspects and will he catch them before they reach Quebec and disappear?

The first half of the account fills in the backgrounds. It’s not even clear, apart from the prologue, how the lives of Marconi and Crippen will intersect. The pace picks up in the second half as we discover the possible crime that connects Marconi’s invention to Crippen’s flight. Meanwhile, Larson fleshes out two very interesting characters. We, along with Dew, find ourselves wondering whether Crippen really was capable of what Dew found in his basement. And what part did the apparently innocent Ethel play?

This was my first encounter with Larson’s work. I have two of his other books, The Devil in the White City and The Splendid and the Vile on my TBR pile. What I discovered is a combination of historian, biographer, and true crime writer who could spin a great and true tale. I anticipate more happy hours with this author!

Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are peculiar delights of reading during the summer and as I think back, I have memories of a number of delightful places where I enjoyed a good book.

They begin with mornings at our old picnic table with a cup of coffee. I enjoy the quiet needed to read a good devotional work while gazing at my garden and listening to the song of creation.

I remember afternoons on my porch swing reading sports biographies as a boy.

Or trips to the local library, and how delicious the air conditioning and the unhurried opportunities to select a new stack of books to read on that porch.

When I still lived in Youngstown, I’d grab a paperback, hop on my bike and ride to one of the myriad shady overlooks in the park, maybe on the rock formations overlooking the Silver Bridge, or a bench with a view of Lanterman Falls, or even under a copse of trees on Lake Glacier opposite the Parapet Bridge.

There is a conference center in northern Michigan that probably had a half dozen or more spots, from screen porches in several of the cabins, the deck outside the meeting building, or the porch by one of the lodges overlooking the sparkling bay. The summer evenings would get brisk enough that a fire in one’s cabin became an inviting spot to settle into a good mystery. Sometimes a secluded spot along the water with a breeze to keep the insects away was all you needed.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much. The cushiony turf under a shady tree overlooking a Lake Michigan beach is another favorite memory.

Our first apartment in Toledo had a second floor screened back porch that looked out toward the Maumee River. A cold ice tea, and a good book made for a perfect evening, turning to conversation when it was too dark to read.

Perhaps the most exotic place I found to read was a courtyard at a conference center I stayed at a few years ago on Catalina Island off the California coast. Under palms with lush flowering plants on cool morning with sea breezes off the harbor, it was a most pleasant place to read with my morning coffee.

During the heat of the day, a frappucino at a coffee shop and a good book is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, if I can find a quiet nook.

I miss front porches. Our “front porch” is a couple of lounge chairs, a table for drinks that we pull out of the garage. But it is shady, cool, we can browse books and magazines and talk, and visit one of our many neighbors walking their dogs. You don’t always get a lot of reading done, but books are part of the mix of a pleasant evening.

7One thing. That girl on the tree limb really doesn’t look comfortable. I’d be constantly apprehensive of tumbling into the water. After all, it is summertime, and the reading should be easy.

Politics, Partisanship, and Partisanism

Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

It’s always been etiquette in social situations to avoid religion and politics. Fights about these two important areas of life are not a new thing. I would contend though that what has occurred in our time is a move beyond politics and beyond partisanship to partisanism. Let me explain what I mean.

Politics: I know people who say they just don’t want to talk about politics. I haven’t figured out how we live without talking about politics. “Politics” comes from the Greek polis, the word for city, and has to do at root with the affairs of the city. The city was the state in ancient Greece. Since then, we have created additional levels of politics at state and national levels. Decisions about school curriculums, trash pick up and recycling services, policing, the creation and maintenance of state parks, the right of way of roads, what taxes we pay, and the regulations that govern interstate travel all are political.

Politics exist because more of us exist than simply our own households. We all have our ideas of what makes a good place, a good society. Politics is the process of how we figure out together how human societies best flourish. Good political processes are essential to a healthy society. When these processes cease to function well in promoting the common good, social orders deteriorate. Not all at once, perhaps. Societies may live for a while on the capital of formerly constructive political processes. I think that is our current predicament.

Partisanship: If you have two human beings, you probably have disagreements. Often, a number of people will take the same side against others. In many countries there are multiple groups with particular interests. Partisanship is not necessarily a bad thing because it allows diverse interests to have a voice in political decisions all have to live with. Effective politics recognizes the situations that need to be addressed for the health of a society, allows different voices to be heard, and arrives at compromises that aren’t perfect, but work, at least imperfectly for everyone. Healthy partisanship ensures that all the citizens are considered and that political solutions are ideally common good solutions, not favoring some citizens over others. Partisans keep in mind that they represent a certain interest but also serve those with different interests. Maintaining that tension is important if you believe in the equality and value of all your citizens.

Partisanism: I looked. It is actually a word. I see partisanism as a distortion of healthy partisanship. It is where party ideals become ideology and there is a kind of absolutism about it that says we are right and they are wrong. The point is not seeking some form of common good, but simply the good of our party, our group. Wrong people don’t deserve good. Partisanism stirs up a religious fervor befitting the fact that it is an -ism. If partisanism can’t get its way it obstructs and often complains that the other side is unwilling to compromise. What is really the case is that the extreme positions sides are forced to in these situations brook no compromise–only winners and losers. Nothing is left on the table. We only allow either/or. There is no room to consider both/and.

Partisanism at its worst becomes political extremism in which pretenses of principle are jettisoned for the ruthless exercise of power. It might be a form of fascism on the right or a form of statism on the left. In history, this always ends badly in the loss of human rights, and often, a succession of violence.

As a follower of Christ, I believe both that politics reflects an aspect of the “culture mandate” given Adam and Eve and that in a world of finite and fallen human beings the best that can ever be obtained are proximate goods. Any move toward the absolutism of partisanism and political extremism ignores these realities and substitutes an earthly kingdom for a heavenly one. Hence, I believe at best politicians work for proximate solutions that listen to and serve all those represented by them. I believe it is essential that our parties strive toward this kind of political work and that as a citizenry, we support that work and stop vilifying political compromise and negotiation. Might we release a kind of creativity when we free politicians from the tyranny of “either/or” politics to explore what “both/and” might look like?

I hope those of you reading don’t try to argue with me about what “they” did, whoever “they” are. I’m not interested in those arguments because I’m not interested in that kind of partisanism. I don’t mind a politics where we have different ideas of the common good as long as the common good of all our citizens is our aim. Any other politics is unworthy of us because implicitly we are saying that there are some Americans we don’t need, some Americans who don’t count, some who don’t have the same value as human beings. I’ve watched us espouse the idea of all being created equal on July 4 and ignore it the rest of the year for too long. We won’t get it perfect but a politics that relentless pursued the common good, and vigorously resisted partisanism, could get it better. No matter your party, that’s a politics worth talking about.

Review: Talking About Ethics

Talking About Ethics, Michael S. Jones, Mark J. Farnham, and David L. Saxon. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academics, 2021.

Summary: An approach, which after a chapter of laying out different ethical approaches, applies these through fictional conversations between three students, friends, and classmates discussing various contemporary ethical issues.

This book offers an alternative to the traditional books on ethical issues and decision-making. Most of these consist of a series of discursive treatments of each ethical issue, citing major theorists and how they argue to their conclusions. This book is different. It features three students, Micah, a thoughtful evangelical, Bianca, an Eastern Orthodox immigrant, and Lauren, an atheist nursing student, taking the same ethics class. Early in the term, they meet at a favorite tea and coffee shop, the Grey Earl, and after discussing their last class, they decide to form a study group to both learn the material and dig more deeply into various ethical issues.

An introductory chapter formally lays out the ethical approaches of ethical relativism and ethical absolutism, and theoretical approaches including virtue ethics, utilitarianism, Kant’s duty ethics, natural law ethics, divine command and divine nature ethics. Subsequent chapters explore:

  • Humanitarian issues: immigration, capital punishment, torture, and animal rights.
  • Medical ethics: legalizing narcotics, abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, and reproductive technology and human cloning.
  • Marriage and sex: premarital sex, homosexuality, gender identity.
  • International issues: environmentalism, world hunger, war.

Discussions by our three students are the primary vehicle for exploring each issue. How and where the issues arise vary. Some follow from or are classroom discussions, or projects the group decides to work on for extra credit. In the case of the discussion on euthanasia, the conversation arises from a relative of Micah receiving a serious cancer diagnosis. In another case Lauren is introduced to an environmental club by a friend and goes back to the group with questions about environmental ethics not covered in the class. Homosexuality arises out of a conversation between Bianca and a friend who comes to her after the friend learns one of her roommates is lesbian. In each discussion, different ethical approaches and theories are applied and critiqued as they relate to the issue.

There are several things I like about this approach. One is that it presumes a level of intelligence and engagement on the part of the students–these students do there homework, engage in rigorous questioning with courtesy toward each other, and think hard. Second is that it models ethical reasoning in real life as opposed to abstract, discursive arguments. The third thing I liked, which I don’t always see in Christian-based texts, is that the chapters don’t resolve with “the Christian answer.” Students arrive at different answers and the presence of Lauren reveals how a secular student might ethically reason without reference to faith. The Christians don’t always agree, and don’t always know at the start what they think. I personally appreciated chapters on torture, animal rights and organ transplantation that challenged me to think more deeply about these issues.

Each chapter concludes with questions to ponder, key terms discussed in the chapter, and a list of books, both general and Christian, for further study. An extensive bibliography is offered at the end. The book seems designed well for use in a college ethics course or a collegiate ministry course on ethical issues. It might serve as a supplemental text to an ethics course in a secular setting and might even serve as the basis for group conversations similar to those of Micah, Bianca, and Lauren. It is also a helpful resource for anyone who wants to explore the issues of the book in more depth or who may be called upon to comment on them.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Juneteenth

By Nafsadh – Own work, Juneteenth Flag licensed under CC0 1.0

Today’s post isn’t about a memory of growing up in Youngstown. No doubt there were Juneteenth celebrations during the years I was growing up. But most of us outside the Black community were likely not aware of this celebration nor the significant event it commemorated.

This week changed all this when Congress voted and the president signed into law on June 17 the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Juneteenth, celebrated since 1866 on June 19 is now a federally recognized holiday. Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, the holiday was celebrated with the closure of federal offices on Friday, with the state of Ohio and many local governments following.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 freed slaves in the states of the Confederacy when they came under Union control. The very last state to do so was Texas. The Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2. On June 19, 1865 Union Major General Gordon Granger took command of Union troops in Galveston. Shortly after, his troops marched through the streets reading General Order Number 3 that included these words:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Technically, these were not the last slaves to be freed, although they were the last slaves in Confederate states. Slavery remained in effect in the border states of Kentucky and Delaware (they had remained loyal to the Union and the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to them) until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865. But on June 19, 1866 Blacks in Galveston celebrated the first anniversary of their freedom, calling it Jubilee Day. The celebration spread in the 1800’s and by 1890 was called Juneteenth.

The rise of Jim Crow led to a temporary decline of the celebrations. Then the great migrations of Blacks to the North and West spread the tradition to the major cities of these regions beginning in the 1950’s. Momentum grew in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A Milwaukee celebration in 1978 attracted 100,000. In 1999, Ralph Ellison’s novel Juneteenth brought more attention. In 2003, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson began campaigning for Juneteenth to be a federally recognized holiday.

The first documentation I’ve found of a celebration of Juneteenth in Youngstown was in 2002 at Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church on Parkcliffe Avenue on the South Side. On June 19-22 of that year the church hosted games, carnival rides, historical activities, and lessons. The Vindicator article about the events included this information from Tamica D. Green, the event organizer:

Green said the idea to have a celebration here grew out of the church’s desire to do more community outreach and bring the community together to learn and celebrate.
“The church has always been the center of the Juneteenth celebration because of the vital role it played to slaves during slavery and continues to play in the black community today,” she said.
Green said those attending the celebration will be in for a history lesson mixed with lots of fun.
Part of that lesson will come from a freedom walk planned for June 22. The walk will be in honor of all blacks who lead the way to the freedoms that modern-era blacks enjoy. Those participating will be given tidbits of history along the way.

By 2004, the Vindicator reports the expansion of these celebrations to the East Side with three days of events at the Unity Building on McGuffey Road as well as the annual celebration at Holy Trinity Baptist Church.

Most recently, the celebrations have moved downtown to the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater. Last year’s events occurred under COVID restrictions (WKBN). This year has featured a weeklong slate of events that began June 12 with a Market Street Corridor Cleanup. Today, June 19, the LOUD 102.3 Juneteenth Celebration will take place at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater, from 12 pm to 5 pm. There will be live music, food trucks, a job fair and local vendors–as well as free vaccinations! All restrictions have been raised so Joseph Napier and his event organizers are hoping for a big event. The celebrations conclude tomorrow with the Mahoning Valley Fatherhood Coalition Father’s Day prayer service, cookout and car show.

Some worry about two independence days less than a month apart being divisive. I don’t see it. For one thing, it’s a holiday and we Americans love the chance to celebrate. We even celebrate Cinco de Mayo, though many of us are not Latino/a, and it is a Mexican rather than American holiday! For another, what Juneteenth represents is not only freedom for Blacks but freedom for all of us. Slavery and racism are a burden for all of us. The Declaration of Independence states: “all men are created equal.” Juneteenth represents the realization of the dream of July 4. It seems to me that, if anything, the recognition of Black independence makes July 4 a day we all can celebrate more fully, even as all us rightly can celebrate the end of the horror of slavery.

So with that, I wish my fellow Youngstowners in the Black community a joyous Juneteenth Celebration in this historic year.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: Orsinian Tales

Orsinian Tales, Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Library of America, 2016 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A collection of eleven short stories set in the fictional eastern European country of Orsinia taking place between 1150 and 1965.

This is a lesser-known collection of Ursula K. Le Guin short stories published after her Earth-Sea books, where I first encountered Le Guin many years ago. These are set in an imaginary country, not in another world, but in Eastern Europe in the fictional country of Orsinia. The eleven stories span a period between 1150 and 1965, although not in chronological order.

The first story, The Fountains, suggests the basic theme running through these stories. An Orsinian scientist comes to Paris for a science conference, and takes the opportunity to escape and view the Fountains of Versailles, only to return once more to his hotel and the surveillance of the secret police. This and the other stories chronicle the efforts of people to exert their own freedom against the restrictive circumstances of their lives. A military man excels in his career only to realize he’d sacrificed what and who he’d loved forty years earlier in The Lady of Moge. A clerk with a family longs to be a musician, and despite counsel, determines to keep working on a large composition that will take him years to finish and may not provide any economic benefit. Others seek work that will help them move beyond survival, or love that seems out of reach. In The House, a divorcee comes back to her first husband to re-establish a broken relationship.

The stories pieced together trace the history of this country from a feudal power to an eastern bloc country. Many of the stories portray what seems a relatively dismal life of eking out an existence under some kind of authoritarian regime. The sense of this all was trying to find some glimpse of happiness in a life that is hard and then you die. Characters seem to seek the transcendent in a world where this doesn’t exist.

No doubt these are finely crafted tales. But the disconnected character of the stories, the jumbled chronology, and the bleak outlook of the stories failed to capture my interest. Remembering the Earth-Sea books, The Lathe of Heaven and The Left Hand of Darkness, I anticipated more. I didn’t find it here.

Review: Working Abroad with Purpose

Working Abroad with Purpose, Glenn D. Deckert, Foreword by James Lundgren. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019.

Summary: A concise handbook on the practice of tentmaking, explaining the concept, offering practical tips on a number of aspects of working abroad, and recounting the author’s personal experiences.

The idea, indeed even the terminology of tentmaking, goes back to the apostle Paul, who supported his efforts to share the gospel in the Gentile world with his craft of making tents. Very simply, tentmaking may be defined as “using one’s professional skills to render products or services as a means of livelihood in a cross-cultural situation with the aim of sharing the gospel with others.” In more recent times, many of those seeking to share the Christian message in foreign countries would be sent by mission agencies after raising significant funds. Increasingly, such Christian workers are not welcomed in many countries, and if they are able to enter, it is often after a couple years of itinerating work, and nationals often wonder about these people living in their country without obvious employment.

Glenn Deckert, with several decades of tentmaking experience in a number of foreign countries, makes the case for why tentmaking offers great opportunities both to serve one’s host country and appropriately share the gospel. He shares an account of his own career working in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong for longer periods with shorter stints in several other countries. Much of his work was related to English language instruction.

The bulk of this slim book discusses a number of practical matters: finding employment abroad, obtaining prayer support (often reserved for supported workers), securing visas and permits, housing and schooling, discovering fellowship in the host country, seeing opportunities for outreach, language learning, relating to existing ministries, medical care, sources of income during home stays, material crises and retirement and other questions of logistics. The author shares wisdom won of experience. He intersperses these personal experiences with practicalities.

Several things come through in addition to the case for tentmaking and practicalities. Running through the personal experiences is a dependence on God and repeated stories of God’s providential faithfulness. Those who pursue tentmaking assignments need to be committed to professional excellence in their work combined with a collegiality with the nationals with whom one works. That and the practice of hospitality open up many opportunities for friendship and questions about one’s faith leading to opportunities to share that faith. Deckert writes:

“A tentmaker is more inclined to conceive of ministry as engagement in a society or sub-culture with a Christ-centered mindset and way of life. In the course of daily activities serving others, he/she seizes every timely opportunity for personal witness, informal discussion of biblical truth, and interaction on honest questions.”

People from many walks of life may have opportunities to work abroad for shorter or longer periods, often in countries closed to “Christian workers.” In a shrinking domestic academic market, teaching abroad may be an alternative career choice. The key question is whether one is already comfortable living a transparent and hospitable life of sharing one’s faith as people notice the difference in their lives. One doesn’t learn this in another culture. If tentmaking looks attractive to you, this is a great guidebook touching on every aspect of the tentmaker’s life.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Shocking The Conscience

Shocking the Conscience, Simeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

Summary: A memoir of Simeon Booker’s career as a reporter, much of it during the height of the Civil Rights movement from the murder of Emmett Till to the busing battles of the 1970’s and beyond.

I became interested in Simeon Booker because both of us grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. Booker moved there as a child from Baltimore, Maryland, his father the first director of the Black YMCA in Youngstown and later a pastor on Youngstown’s South side. Other than a poem in the Vindicator and his early writing experience for the Buckeye Review (the Black newspaper in Youngstown), there is little here about his time in Youngstown.

He went away to college when he encountered discrimination at Youngstown College. Following stints at Black newspapers in Baltimore and Cleveland, he qualified for a Nieman fellowship at Harvard and was hired as the first Black reporter at the Washington Post. After a few years of lackluster assignments, he was recruited to open the Washington bureau for Johnson publications, publisher of Ebony and the weekly news digest Jet. Booker occupied this post from 1956 until his retirement in 2007.

Much of the book chronicles his on-the-ground coverage of decisive moments of the Civil Rights movement. We ride on the edge of the seat with him and his photographer, trying to pass as Black ministers with a Bible on their seat to cover early Civil Rights gatherings in the deep South. We ache with him as he writes the stories of the murder and open casket funeral of Emmett Till and then sweat through the trial at the small table given “Negro” press until the acquittal of Till’s murderers. He covers the story of the Little Rock Nine who attempt integrate Central High School. Later he describes the confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the eventual march to Montgomery, Alabama

Perhaps the most harrowing account was his travel on one of two busses ridden by Freedom Riders testing the enforcement of laws integrating interstate travel in the South. He describes the worries he has for passengers on the other bus when it was firebombed and narrates the beating of passengers on his bus while the bus driver and police stay away. Somehow, he managed to get a call through to Bobby Kennedy, who he had become friends with and who invited him to call if he needed help. That call got the Riders out of trouble.

He gives an illuminating account of his travels in Vietnam, where he covered the treatment of Blacks in the military and the disproportionate numbers in the thick of the fighting. He went through fire fights, and a helicopter flight with William Westmoreland with rifle rounds pinging off the skin of the helicopter, describing it as feeling safer than driving into the deep South.

The other part of his narrative is his relationships with different presidents, from Eisenhower to Obama. He describes the promising talk and disappointing actions of Eisenhower, the promise of Kennedy, with increased access and the initiation of Civil Rights legislation accomplished under Lyndon Johnson, a southern Democrat. a cooler relationship with Richard Nixon, the advances under Carter in appointing Black judges to the bench and to many other positions. He has less to say about the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush years. In fact the period from Nixon to Obama is covered in about 25 pages, with a portion dedicated to the Congressional Black Caucus.

Most of the book is focused on about a fifteen year period from the early 1950’s to the late 1960’s. On the one hand, there is so much to which Booker was a witness in these years and his first hand narrative of many of these events fills out other histories of them I have read. Yet it seems so much more could have been told of the ensuing years and both the advances for Blacks and the shifts in the Republican party’s strength among white Southern voters leading to our current political divisions. One has the feeling that this might have been part of a two volume work were it not for Booker’s passing in 2017, a few years after its publication.

Nevertheless, Booker was an amazing journalist. His publisher said he never had to correct or retract a story by Booker, even under the duress of someone like Lyndon Johnson. He established high standards for journalism, not just Black journalism, while focusing on the issues and stories that concerned Black people. His career underscores the value of a free press, and the courage journalists have always shown to “get the story.” This is not a narrative of bombastic rhetoric but comes across as the quiet, deliberate unfolding of the larger story of which all those stories were a part, and Booker’s own witness to a critical portion of our nation’s history, when the Civil Rights movement “shocked the conscience” of the nation.

Review: It’s Not Your Turn

It’s Not Your Turn, Heather Thompson Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: When everyone seems to be moving ahead while we are standing still, chosen for jobs while we are runners up, the question is how we should live while we wait our turn.

In our success-oriented culture, it can be very hard when it seems our lives are going nowhere while our friends are conquering the world. Heather Thompson Day contends that the turning point in our lives may center around what we do while we wait our turn. We can be jealous of others or sink into depression. Much of this arises from comparing ourselves to social media success stories. Day came to the realization in her own struggles that the issue wasn’t how she rated against others but against the person Jesus was inviting her to be. What she did to live toward him, succeed or not, was worth more than anything.

Day explores the rich life we may pursue as we wait our turn. Actually, the work begins with learning to wait. Day asks us to imagine the benefits that could come of something we really want being delayed. The hardest part is trusting that God will keep his promises. Then we need to reckon with the things we are saying to ourselves and to allow a life saturated in God’s word to reframe them. We need to move beyond what we feel to what we see, and then, like Elisha’s servant, have our eyes opened to seeing where God is at work. Often it means beginning to see the small things, to pursue faithfulness in the ordinariness of life. How we treat the seemingly insignificant–whether tasks or people–will crucially shape us.

The time when it is not our turn is the time to set our goals and devote ourselves to the deliberate practices necessary to reach them. It’s the time to build our network and one practice she commends is the asking of help. At the same time she challenges the social media practices of many of us, trying to build big platforms and tout our work. Instead, are we using it to stay in touch and care for others? Times of waiting can be times where God challenges our selfishness, where God humbles us so we are not a danger to others and our own souls when we are in a position of power. Waiting our turn can take us into dependence on community and challenge us to re-envision God, not as the angry, demanding deity of so many angry, demanding people, but as the loving and forgiving Father.

Finally, Day addresses how we move when we see that it may be our turn. We take risks, moving on maybe, trusting that God is in it with us. Whether it is our turn or not, we can step out in faith and act in integrity, living “our lives with a dignity we could only have given ourselves.”

Day shares her own struggles as a Ph.D struggling to make ends meet, aspiring to success as a communicator and teaching classes at a community college. She describes the risks to move across country to the positions she and her husband took, only to have a pandemic hit. Reading between the lines perhaps, one senses that the struggles have hardly come to an end and that this book is as much a “memo to myself” as it is a story of, “I made it and you can too and here is how.” Instead, what she shares is a tangible expression of what it means to live out in practical terms a life of faith grounded in the word of God. Each chapter ends with a promise from scripture to memorize as well as some searching questions.

The pandemic has been a time when many lives have been put on hold, and even as restrictions are lifted in many places, things are still in recovery. While it may not yet be our turn to move ahead, it may be our turn to lean into the transformative life of waiting on God and trusting and obeying in the little things and the formative practices that shape us for the day when it is our turn. In reading Heather Thompson Day, I feel I’m listening to someone is walking there with me and has figured out what really matters when it is not yet our turn.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Beautiful Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013.

Summary: While solving a case involving the murder of a prior in a remote monastery, Gamache must confront his arch-nemesis Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur.

Things must be quiet in Three Pines. No murders there to solve. Instead, Gamache and Beauvoir are sent to a remote monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, of an order, The Gilbertines, thought to have died out. St. Gilbert’s distinction was his loyalty for Thomas à Becket. In consequence, the Gilbertines were chased across Europe, and a group, disguised as workers, find their way to a remote part of Canada, surviving for four centuries.

Two dozen monks led by an Abbot and a Prior who is also their choir director maintain a self-sustaining community and come together to sing the most beautiful Gregorian chant heard anywhere in the world. Gamache knows. He has heard the one recording of their chants that took the world by storm.

And now the Prior is dead, murdered by blows to the head, curled in a ball by the wall of the Abbot’s garden. It can be accessed only through a bookcase in the Abbot’s office. The only ones who typically do so are the Abbot, the Prior, and the Abbot’s secretary, Brother Simon, who had found the Prior.

Concealed in the Prior’s sleeves was a piece of parchment with musical notation in the character of chant, but unlike any chant, and with non-sensical words. What did all this mean? And how was it connected to the Prior’s death. And who of the other twenty-three brothers, seemingly one in song and community, did this? And what is the source of the particular beauty of the singing of these brothers, the beautiful mystery?

Gamache and Beauvoir set out to unravel all this in their patient, methodical fashion. They discover a deeply divided community, reflecting a divide between the Abbot and Prior, once the deepest of friends. The Prior wants to make another recording, and for the monks to be permitted to break their vow of silence to tour. The Abbot refuses even though a number of the monks oppose him. Even though one of them has shown him that the foundations of the monastery are crumbling and may not last another ten years. Another recording could save the building. But the Abbot fears it could destroy the order.

Amid the efforts to solve the murder, the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté, Sylvain Françoeur, arrives, ostensibly to take over the investigation. He has it in for Gamache, and has come to attack Gamache and Beauvoir at the points of their vulnerabilities. In Françoeur, Penny has created a formidable and subtle villain, one we love to hate.

Some of the promotional copy speaks of “the divine, the human, and the cracks in between” and this is indeed a theme running through this mystery. The transcendent beauty of the chants, even with a killer among them, captivates Gamache. These monks believe what they sing, have come to this place to sing what they believe. Yet they are human. Twenty-three distinct men. The cracks between have riven their community, in as great a danger as the walls of their monastery. But amid the noble work of the Sûreté to execute justice, there are cracks as well. Obviously between Gamache and Françoeur, but also between Gamache and Beauvoir, stemming from the ambush attack and the traumas that have never healed. There are the cracks within as well.

There is also a crack between faith and secularity. The tension between faithfulness to God and the vows of the order and the pull of secular fame and the money it could bring is one crack. There is also a contrast between the faith of the monks and the officers of the Sûreté who all have walked away from the church. The tension is greatest in Gamache, who prayed the last rites over his fallen officers amid a gun battle, who is captivated by the chants, and yet…. In the last words of dialogue, Gamache is asked, “Would you like me to hear your confession?” to which he replies, “Not just yet, I think, mon pere.” I’m intrigued with what Penny will do with this.